The other day I made a big mistake. I uttered the word ‘maths’ in Gemma-Rose’s presence. Oh my! She instantly became stiff and prickly.
“What’s wrong with maths?” I asked.
“It’s boring. It’s just a lot of numbers.”
“You don’t like numbers?”
I attempted a little nudge: “Numbers can be fun. We could play a game together… a computer game.”
Gemma-Rose flung herself down on the sofa next to me, with a huge sigh. I opened my computer and soon we were on the games page of the Manga High website. “What would you like to play?” Nothing… anything… I could choose. I clicked on the first game on the page, and waited while three other ‘players’ joined us. Then Gemma-Rose began dutifully working out problems, while a character in a hot air balloon floated across the screen. Many problems later, the game finally ended, and these words flashed up on the screen: “You finished third.”
Third? Every problem was solved correctly and Gemma-Rose finished third? What a stupid game.
“You have to get the answers faster,” I said. Then I added, “Do you think being timed helps children learn maths?”
“No! Being timed just makes me feel like panicking.”
“Let me have a go,” I said, as I chose a different game to play. Soon I was clicking and calculating and clicking. It wasn’t long before I was sighing and saying, “This is so boring! Do people think kids are stupid or something? This isn’t a game. This is just a maths exercise in disguise. It’s trickery.”
Gemma-Rose grinned. “I told you maths is boring!”
But it’s not. And I know Gemma-Rose isn’t really bored by the subject. I’ve seen her interested in such things as the Fibonacci sequence and Pi.
I wonder if maths can be approached backwards? Could we offer the big picture, show children how fascinating and interesting maths is, and then wait for a child to wonder about the details? Maybe it’s a bit like writing. We expose a child to the big picture by introducing them to great writing, when we read to them. A lot of children are then inspired to compose their own stories. But If we spend a lot of time making a child work on her spelling and grammar, she might lose interest. The details can be learnt as a child actually writes.
I’ve been pondering something else: Can maths concepts be approached from many different directions? For example, we could just tell our children what Pi is and how to use it to calculate the area of a circle (which I am sure they’ve been impatiently waiting to do!) and then set them some problems. Or we could treat Pi as something very interesting in its own right, and return to it again and again, just a little at a time, from different directions… a video, a book, a mention in a conversation, a pie!.. Each time a child comes into contact with Pi they learn more about it.
So I have a daughter who can tell you about Pi and Fibonacci and even Pythagoras, but she’s still not 100 % accurate when it comes to times tables (though she knows how to work them out given enough time). And you’d better not ask her to do long division.
Some people might say, “Just make her sit down and get those maths facts learnt, once and for all!” I am tempted to agree. That would make life a lot easier. But I can’t do that. Why not? Because that would threaten our relationship. I’d lose Gemma-Rose’s trust, a barrier would go up, and she would stop listening to me.
“Who’s in charge here?” someone else might add. Gemma-Rose is. She knows what she needs to know right at this moment. I’ve discovered it’s impossible to force kids to learn
anything they don’t want to know about. That doesn’t stop parents trying though. Or teachers.
I know if I am heavy handed my daughter will probably run a mile from maths. But letting her learn maths in her own way, in her own time, may very well lead to something very exciting.
Of course real life is already teaching Gemma-Rose a lot of the details of maths. I’ve been thinking about this too.
“You use maths all the time,” I said to Gemma-Rose. “It’s all around us.”
And then we had a very interesting real maths moment. Perhaps I can tell you about that in my next post.
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